Is Poetry More Valuable Than the X-Acto Knife?

Everyone is talking about Louise, now. Maybe they always were, you just weren’t orbiting the right circles, and it’s so hard to be able to nowadays what with there being so few old guard types left with viable apartments of a Woody Allen movie size to allow people in for dinner parties and salons. Blair Waldorf tried to do it once, but you really do need someone with at least a slightly non-poseur air to carry off such things. In any case, Louise is another New York poet who “done good.” And they’ve all been looking for someone to replace the John Ashbery void of reverence for a while. Though they might have considered a younger person to glom onto, for going by who and what the Nobel committee decides is presently au courant to finally laud is always doomed to set you up for mourning, having just found out about a writer, only to also learn they’re old enough to soon be dead, thereby diminishing your chance to relish any further creative output from them “in real time” (though the word “creative” perhaps ought to be put in quotes, for it’s all been done before and if it hasn’t, the gatekeepers certainly don’t want to see it, let alone promote it). 

The tastemakers (not the Nobel committee) might have opted to fill the John Ashbery worship void with someone like Eva Haralambidis-Doherty a.k.a. Eva H.D., recently immortalized on celluloid thanks to Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Sure, she only has two poetry books thus far, but it doesn’t take much to become a darling of the poetry world. It only takes a Nobel Prize in Literature for your work to actually be discovered by an audience outside of the so-called New York conoscenti. Any who, speaking of I’m Thinking of Ending Things, there’s probably no apparatus more perfect for precise self-mutilation than an X-Acto knife, “invented,” incidentally, by Louise’s father and uncle-in-law, Daniel Glück and Sundel Doniger, respectively. Doniger had the blueprint with his medical supply company that produced scalpels with removable blades (how handy for a meticulous serial killer on the go!).

Yet it was, like everything else, the advertising game that spurred him to innovate, as he was inveigled to come up with a beta version of the X-Acto knife when a designer asked if he could provide him with a tool that might help easily crop advertisements. Presto!: X-Acto. Seeing the potential to sell it as another scalpel with disposable qualities, Doniger could not, in good conscience, do so, for the blade was not easy to clean, and since everyone was well-familiar with the hazards of unsanitary practices thanks to polio, he instead chose to pass it along to his brother-in-law, Louise’s daddy. It was he who took it to the money-making potential stage in suggesting they market it as a craft tool. Honestly, it’s the type of thing that smacks of Romy and Michele saying they invented Post-Its, but there you have it. Louise was suddenly a quintessentially Jewish heiress, successor to the fortune of something useful and practical. 

But no, poetry was her pursuit. She knew it would please her father more to fulfill his own long-standing dream of becoming a writer. Though a poet is something different than a writer, it must be said. Louise’s life was (and maybe still is) nothing if not a parade of poet laureates (here’s looking at you, Léonie Adams and Stanley Kunitz). Poetry was what she turned to as therapy–in addition to devoting a large bulk of her existence to psychoanalysis (such is the provenance of Jewish heiresses). An outlet and an escape. For a long time, Louise found the umlaut in her last name offensive, a taunting smiley face that was altogether against the nature of her family heritage and the depression and anxiety she experienced for much of her youth, capped by the eating disorder that became popularized in the 90s thanks to Calvin Klein ads. 

She surmounted that contempt for the umlaut and went about her not so merry way of composing poems in Vermont, her father there in the distance, looming large with his invention. When he died in 1985, she had a dream that he came to her in the middle of the night and stabbed her in the chest with an X-Acto blade (free-standing, not attached to the handle) and cut out her heart so he could take it with him to the next realm. Maybe that’s why she felt a bit deader inside after he departed. She was heartless. But you had to be to write truly objective, therefore searing poetry. 

In 1980 (when she still technically had a heart), “The Drowned Children” got Louise accused of being a “child hater” (you can be one even when you’re a mother–perhaps more so than a childless woman). Don’t hate the describer, hate the description. For many, it’s an unbearable tale, despite its brevity. It is swift and precise, like an X-Acto knife, it cuts deftly to the quick, and to the point. So maybe poetry (at least Glück’s) and the X-Acto knife have the same value in this sense, each serving the purpose of trimming away at that which is superfluous and possibly wounding others in the process. And maybe this is why the greatest testament to Glück’s success comes in the assessment that her “writing most often evades ethnic identification, religious classification, or gendered affiliation.” It has cut away everything nonessential, leaving only the mind detached from the body, and, resultantly, the temporal obsessions of this world of which she has excised herself from, returning only to collect the roughly ten million Swedish kronor in prize money.

One thought on “Is Poetry More Valuable Than the X-Acto Knife?

  1. I’ve a handful of first editions, one signed, two with bookplates. In a reading at Hunter College circa 2004, she refused to sign any books, leaving immediately. Speaks volumes.

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